A Year of Feminist Classics

Because they're better together :)

Category Archives: Mariama Bâ

Wrap-up: So Long A Letter

So Long a Letter coverTitle: So Long a Letter
Author: Bâ, Mariama
Translator: Bode-Thomas, Modupe
Length: 90 pages
Genre: Fiction, General
Publisher / Year: Heinemann Educational Publishers / 1989
Original Publisher / Year: Les Nouvelle Editions Africaines / 1980

I thought I would start with some of the information that I normally put in my review on my own site. For anyone who hasn’t read this book yet, now you have a bit of information on it 🙂 I know that less people were able to participate in this book as it is generally less available. We must get on these library systems to get more copies in circulation – I think after reading the opinions that I’ve seen at least are all hugely in favor of the book!

One of my favorite parts of the book is still the conversation with her would be suitor on page 60-1 where she says:

‘In many fields, and without skirmishes, we have taken advantage of the notable achievements that have reached us from elsewhere, the gains wrestled from the lessons of history. We have a right, just as you have, to education, which we ought to be able to pursue to the furthest limits of our intellectual capacities. We have a right to equal well-paid employment, to equal opportunities. The right to vote is an important weapon. And now the Family Code has been passed, restoring to the most humble of women the dignity that has so often been trampled upon.’

Bâ, I felt, did a really good job of portraying the way that polygamy affects women, and how it is such a slap in the face to the wives. She did so in a way that lets the reader made their own judgement and without being preachy manages to make her point come across very strongly.

What I also really liked about the book (as I alluded to in the discussion post!) was how the reaction of each of the women was shown and neither was castigated. Both of their decisions are shown as being rational and well thought out decisions. There is no one ‘right’ response with all others being wrong but rather a case by case basis with each woman trying to come up with the best solution for her situation. It really highlights the individuality of all of our situations, whatever they be, and how important it is not to judge others for their decisions.

Because there haven’t been as many readers of this book I wanted to share with you what they thought of it. Here is a roundup of what others thought (those included are those who linked in the discussion post and introduction post – there is a place below to add in your own link and direct us to your thoughts, if you’ve posted!)

Dragonflyy419 at Dragonflyy419 Attempts to Combat Boredom wrote about the issues faced by both women but especially by the narrator. She also included a fantastic excerpt. I really liked what she said about the issues that the narrator faced.

Throughout the book Mariama Ba points out the difficulties that the Senegalese woman faces in a very male dominated world.  The widow talks about the stresses of being a working mother trying to support her household and twelve children, especially after her husband abandoned her for his second wife, her co-wife.

Lisa at BaffledBooks wrote a great post talking about what she liked about the book (many of the same things I did!). She also said:

Other highlights of the book for me include, the first solo voyae to the movie theatre, her growing comfort with handling the finaces and household maintaine when her husband failed to keep up with the and the typicial what do I do with my children? problems. These all were completely relatable situations, one anybody, anywhere, can understand and it was these and other similar events that really pulled it into focus for me how similar the problems we encounter are, even if the situation that create them are so different.

Ana of Things Mean A Lot, one of my co-hosts here also really enjoyed how the two women had different reactions which showed how we need to respect others and their decisions. She said:

It probably goes without saying that I love feminism, and that I feel nothing but complete gratitude and appreciation for the ongoing work of giving women full human status, not merely in words but also in deeds. And yet there’s sometimes the danger that some person or other’s definition of feminism will become a new mould into which women are expected to fit – which is the last thing we want to happen. It was with relief, then, that I noticed that So Long a Letter did a wonderful job of avoiding this trap by having two characters react to their husbands’ bigamy differently and casting no judgement or accusations on either one of them.

Ana’s post also talks about the bravery exhibited by both women.

Emily at Evening All Afternoon read the book in it’s original French and wrote a very detailed post with so much that I could comment on here! I will just say that she brings up some really interesting points about education, feminism and timing, language, marriage laws and how culture and religion sometimes distort each other. On the feminism and timing she says:

His points, therefore, are heartfelt, and one can sympathize with them: in a country working so hard just to establish its national identity, combating the worst kinds of poverty while simultaneously attempting to garner respect (and funding) on the international stage, is it realistic to prioritize changing the status of women, either in politics or in everyday life? On the other hand, these are exactly the arguments that have been used to squelch so many other feminist struggles worldwide

Beachreader also wrote a great post talking about what she liked in the book and said:

Recognizing that change is difficult, Ramatoulaye compares the new found independence of her country to her new feelings of refashioning her life and starts the change within herself as she confronts modern challenges with her daughters.

So interesting to think of the time of history and how it affected the writing.

If you have written about the book, please add your link using the link below.

Discussion: So Long a Letter

I know, I have yet to wrap-up the Wollstonecraft discussion but figured I would get this one started first – more open discussion is always a good thing right?!

As I mentioned in the introduction, it is a rather small volume but it really discusses a lot. I want to bring up first two items that were raised in the comments on Tuesday.

1. What did you think of the different responses each women had to polygamy? Did you think that one was portrayed as better than the other? Did you feel both were accurate portrayals?

2. What did you think of the way the funeral happens? From my limited knowledge I believe that the portrayal was fairly true to an Islamic funeral. Is this true? What did you think of the time it gave her to consider her options? Do you think the time of reflection is a good or bad thing? What about the way that both wives had to work together?

Another thing that was brought up was the way the climate of the country at the time of writing affected both Wollstonecraft and Bâ. Wollstonecraft wrote in response to the French revolution. I don’t know a lot about Senegal (note to self – learn more!) but I would imagine that Bâ wrote in large part because of the let down post-independence  for the rights of women. What do you think of this – do you think the political situation played a part in her work? Did you see any other symmetry between the two works?

Dragonflyy419 has already posted the beginnings of her discussion here, do check it out. Have you posted about this book? Please include your link in the comments below and I will link to it in the next discussion post or wrap-up!

Introduction to So Long a Letter

I read this month for the readathon in September 2010 and really enjoyed it. It is a really short novel (my edition has 90 pages) and was a rather quick read. My review is here. I am umm… actually without my copy at the moment because I lent it to a blogging friend in Texas. Luckily I have read it rather recently so should be able to keep up with the discussion!

Also, I wanted to add a quick note that I am sorry I’ve been slow in responding to the incredible discussion on the Wollstonecraft posts. I’ve been reading them and really enjoying all the participation and debating going on and will chime in and do a wrap-up of all of it soon.

An Introduction to the Text

Image from Wikipedia of the book cover.

This is a short novel, but it is a very worthwhile read. The book is full of thoughts and ideas to think on and to discuss. While not as old as A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (it was published in 1981), and not as well-known, it is still a fantastic read and highlights feminism in a non-Western setting which I think is so important for us in this project. The book was awarded the very first Noma Award for Publishing in Africa which recognizes outstanding works published on the continent.

The book is written, as you may have guessed by the title, as a long letter. The letter is from a grieving widow to her friend after the death of her husband. They have both suffered from polygamy and have reacted in different ways through their lives – the novel is both an exploration of culture and its distortions and a discussion about the harm polygamy can do to a family. Two differing reactions are shown and the reader gets to decide which is best – or if there is a ‘best’ answer.

The book was written in French and translated to English in 1989 and so is our first translated read as a group. Will anyone be reading along in the original French?

The book explores a lot of issues and I look forward to the discussion that will result from our reading it together! (Or at least you reading it now and my previous reading of it, given that I don’t have my copy at the moment.)

A Quick Biography of the Author

Mariama Bâ was born in 1929 in Dakar, Senegal. She was raised largely by her grandparents after her mother’s death, and was lucky to have a father who pushed for her to be educated. She faced discrimination and trained to be a school teacher and worked for a number of years. According to Wikipedia she was married for a time to a Senegalese member of parliament but divorced him at some point and was left to care for their nine children.

There isn’t a lot known about her, or at least not a lot that I can find. Her Wikipedia page gives a lot of information about her feminist background and how she advocated for the rights of women, but there isn’t a lot of information of a more personal nature. It says:

Bâ’s source of determination and commitment to the feminist cause stemmed from her background, her parent’s life and her schooling. Indeed, her contribution is of absolute importance in modern African studies since she was among the first to illustrate the disadvantaged position of women in African society. Bâ’s work focused on the grandmother, the mother, the sister, the daughter, the cousin and the friend, how they all deserve the title “mother of Africa”, and how important they are for the society.

I think this ringing endorsement more than qualifies her first novel as an important and classic text for our discussion this month!

Bâ died in 1981 after an unnamed illness. Sadly her second book, Scarlet Song, had not yet been published, but was published posthumously. She has one other work, La fonction politique des littératures Africaines écrites (The Political Function of African Written Literatures) which was also written in 1981. It sounds fantastic and I am sorry that I haven’t been able to find a translation of it. Perhaps I will have to brush up on my French!

I hope that many of you will join with us in reading and discussing this text. I look forward to hearing your opinions and thoughts on it. Again, if you have any contributions in terms of discussion points, questions, or anything else, please don’t hesitate to email us at feministclassics[at]gmail[dot]com.